Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ramps: Marble Run Challenges

We love playing with marbles and ramps.  We also love the iPad game Amazing Alex that lets you put chain reactions together for a goal such as getting a ball into a basket.    So we combined the two for our next activity idea.   Could we make a "marble run" that had challenges built-in?  These challenges would have to be solved in order to complete our goal and they would add up to form some simple chain reactions.  What was great was that it continually changed.  Each time we completed a "level" we would go and play something else.  Then I would put together a new challenge for the next time we came back (which is why you see the outfit changes in the pictures).

For a few weeks I collected paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls and any other cylinders I could find.  I put together a few balls (marbles and golf balls) and got a big roll of painters tape.

I started with a simple challenge - get the marble into the box at the end - but I left out one piece in the chain:

The marble fell onto the floor - whoops!  So we discussed what we could do to make the marble continue and Bug suggested adding a ramp.  After talking through where it should be positioned, we taped it to the wall.  Boy was she excited when it worked!

So then I setup the next challenge:  this one was supposed to waterfall or redirect the marble down but I left out one of the steps (again):

Given that she had just had success with adding an extension she tried to do that again.   The ball still missed so we talked about how we needed to go the other way towards the box.  Our final result:

Not what I had envisioned but it worked!   So I then added stars along the path and explained that the ball should pass all the stars - hoping that would help with where to place the missing pieces:

Her solution - just move the target box closer!

She was completely not interested in the stars and asked for them to be removed as they were not helping the marble roll (according to her).  Now we started to explore having a simple chain reaction - the first challenge was to knock a book into the target box.  She tried holding the marble and knocking the book over but that did not count.  Then she tried rolling the marble along the box and into the book, but it did not knock it over.  

So we spoke about how having a marble come down a ramp will make it go faster.  So she selected a ramp and taped it to the wall.   The marble went faster but still did not knock it down.   So we decided to make the ramp longer.  Bug wanted to join two ramps together, but her alignment was a little off:

The solution - use a bigger and longer tube (a poster tube).  She selected the angle, and we taped it to the wall.  The marble still did not knock the book down.  Before I could discuss doing a steeper ramp, she stated that the marble was too small and therefore not strong enough.   Also this bigger tube would allow for a bigger ball.  She got the golf ball and rolled it down.  It worked!  She was so excited!  Even though it was not the solution I envisioned, she was so proud of herself for working through the problem and that was the highlight of this activity!

The next challenge changed tactics a bit.  In this there were 3 balls.  The initial one released from the starting position, a golf ball at the start of a long ramp and a magnetic ball held in place in the middle of a ramp by a magnet.  The goal is to get the magnetic ball into our target box.  The problem - how to make all the balls collide into each other.  

At first the marble ran right off the box so we added a ramp as a bumper to redirect the ball in the way we wanted.   It then came down the first ramp, bounced off the redirection bumper, rolled and started the golf ball that knocked the magnet ball off its holder magnet and into the target box!  (By the way these are not out of sequence - we did change back into our same pajamas!)

We have had a lot of fun with these challenges and hope that you will too!!   I have another one setup and waiting for her to solve in the morning.  We can't wait to hear what kind of chain reactions you setup in your marble run.


  • painters tape
  • cardboard tubes: toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls
  • boxes
  • small balls: marbles, golf balls


  • Setup a target box or container.
  • Tape some pieces of ramps to make a run to the wall leaving out spaces to be filled in.
  • Allow the child to figure out what should be added to the run.
  • Add collisions and challenges as you progress.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Water Ramp

We have been playing with ramps and marbles a lot lately, and I decided to put a little spin on our ramp play.  Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean will discover how water travels down a ramp when "speed bumps" are staggered down the ramp.

The fun starts with rummaging through Papa's workshop.  We are in search of wood pieces to nail onto our ramp.

Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean place their pieces on the board according to how they thought the speed bumps should be placed.

We tested the water ramps with how they placed their speed ramps, but the water just splashed over the ramps.

The most interesting part of this experiment for me was watching the girls place the speed bumps according to how I started the pattern.  It was a great spatial reasoning activity!  At times, the girls got a little frustrated, but I loved watching them work together and figure it out!

Now, it's time to play with our water ramp!  We colored the water so it would be easier to see as it flowed down the ramp along the speed bumps.  Some water seeped out from under the speed bumps, but a little more caulk next time will fix that.

And of course, the girls wanted to test more objects on the speed bumps.  This created an afternoon of fun!

This was a great activity to explore what happens when add a mini-ramp or "speed-bump" to our ramp.  It was fun to see how the speed-bumps both redirected the water or ball flow and made it take longer to get to the ground.   


  • wooden board
  • wood sticks or dowels
  • nail gun or wood glue
  • caulk
  • colored water
  • watering can or cup

  1. Stagger wooden sticks or dowels down a wood board so they overlap about two inches in a zigzag pattern.
  2. Secure with a nail gun or wood glue (allow glue to dry before using).
  3. Caulk wooden sticks to make they leak proof.
  4. Pour colored water over the top stick and watch it flow down following the speed bumps.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ramps: Getting Curvy!

We have loved playing with ramps and exploring different ways you can affect them while developing the Ramps BLAST.  Using some of the supplies from the BLAST and from our home we played around with putting curves at the end of ramps.

We started by looking at what happens when we send the marble down our ramp (half a pool noodle):

Then I gave her a piece of PVC tubing cut in half and asked Bug to connect them together.  Lining them up for the marble to travel down was a fun exercise.  It helped when I drew a circle as a target for her to try and roll the marble through.

I then moved the box slightly so that the purple ramp was no longer pointing at the target and asked her to try and get the marble in again.  She was able to figure out how to get the ramp to turn slightly to get the marble to the goal - we were now using the pink goal.

Next I moved the box and purple ramp even more so they were almost perpendicular to each other.  This proved to be a little frustrating!

So we picked up the tubing and explored how it felt - it was pretty wiggly!  We could bend it.

So we tried again - I helped a bit with lining it up at the bottom of the purple ramp - but Bug was very concerned.  The red ramp section was lying on its side.  Surely that would not work!

What a surprise when it did work! The marble did not fall out!  It even went over our goal!!!  Whoo hoo!

By now we were pretty hot (as it can get in the South!) and headed inside.   The next day we tried some more curvy ramps - but this time we stayed inside.

Now that we knew that the red tube could curve we wanted to explore how a curved ramp vs a straight ramp would affect how far a marble travelled.   So we setup our two ramps up next to each other (we used painters tape to hold the tubing up).  We tried to race the marbles but had trouble with letting them go at the same time so we just looked at how far they travelled.  Our curved ramp went further!

We did this in front of our whiteboard so that we could take a moment and trace the two ramps onto the board to discuss the differences in shapes.  

Then we thought it might be fun to put curves at the bottom of our ramp - but this time make them go up and down.   The short purple ramp did not make the marble go fast enough to go over the bumps so we taped the other section to it.  We had some trouble with the long ramp being unstable so we had to reinforce it along the bottom with books and other items that we could find.  Our longer ramp worked and the marble raced over all the bumps!

This activity was a great way to experiment with curves in conjunction with ramps.  How we can make a curved ramp, or use a curve to direct an object coming off a ramp or use curves to make bumps in the track.  We hope you will have fun playing with curves too!



  • marble
  • pool noodle
  • painters tape (to help hold the PVC tubing in position)
  • 1 inch PVC tubing


1.  Cut a pool noodle in half for a stiff ramp.
2.  Cut PVC tubing in half for flexible or curving ramp.
3.  Using the pool noodle as your main ramp, line up the PVC tubing in different ways to make curves.
4.  Explore and play.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ramps: How Does Oil or Molasses Change the Surface of a Ramp?

Inclined planes are simple machines that help us move objects.  Inclined planes or ramps are used all around us- at the playground (slides), stores (ramp), and our homes (gutter downspout).  But what happens when the surface of a ramp is damaged or changed?  Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean tested this out by creating a ramp and then changed the surface by coating it with oil and molasses.

We created ramps by using metal cookie sheets with one end raised on a stack of books.  With the first ball of play dough, the girls dropped it on a clean cookie sheet.  It just stuck to the cookie sheet.

I asked them how we could make the play dough slide down the cookie sheet easier.  They both knew right away to pour oil on it because the oil acts as a lubricant

Boy, did it slide down the cookie sheet fast!

Next, the girls wanted to see what would happen if we added something sticky.  We looked through the cabinets and found molasses. 

The girls thought the play dough would just stick there and not slide down, but it did- very slowly. 

We wanted to compare the two liquids so we raced the play dough balls down each side of the cookie sheet.  One side still had the oil on it, and the other side still had molasses on it.  It wasn't even close, the oil made our ramp much more slippery and much faster!

  • play dough rolled into 3 balls
  • cookie sheet
  • books
  • oil
  • molasses or other sticky liquid
  1. Place one end of the cookie sheet on a stack of books to create a ramp.
  2. Roll play dough into 3 balls.
  3. Drop one ball onto the clean cookie sheet and discuss what happens.
  4. Pour oil onto one side of the cookie sheet.
  5. Drop ball onto oil and note how fast the play dough slides down the ramp.
  6. Pour molasses onto the other side of the cookie sheet.
  7. Drop ball onto the molasses and note how slow the play dough slides down the ramp.
  8. Take each ball and drop them onto the oil and molasses at the same time.
  9. Compare how fast or slow each ball of play dough moved.